Australia’s Craig Alexander and Mirinda Carfrae will be in the US Virgin Islands this weekend competing in the St Croix Ironman 70.3 triathlon. Both are backing up from the St Anthony’s Olympic distance triathlon in Florida last week. They are both up against some tough competion. New Zealand’s Samantha Warriner recently won the Ochsner Ironman 70.3 in New Orleans and another Kiwi, Terrenzo Bozzone, won the mens division of the Memorial Hermann Ironman 70.3 in Texas last wekend.
Star-Studded Field Races St. Croix
The St. Croix Ironman 70.3 does not have to do a lot to entice a phenomenal pro field each year. For 22 years virtually every major professional triathlete from Mike Pigg to Dave Scott to Karen Smyers and Mirinda Carfrae has raced on the island that can best be described as”paradise.” The 22nd running of “The Beauty & The Beast” will be no different.
This may be the most competitive St. Croix ever, with the pros competing for a solid $50,000 prize purse and the expected 700 to 800 age group athletes will vie for one of the coveted 28 Hawaii Ironman World Championship slots, as well as 40 slots for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Clearwater.
Where to start? Well, you’ve got to begin with the race’s returning champion, Catriona Morrison of Scotland. The 33-year-old former World Long Distance Duathlon Champion showed off her run speed last year by running down one of the sport’s greatest runners ever, Mirinda Carfrae and winning by three minutes. This
will be Morrison’s first race of the 2010 season, and she spent much of the off-season dealing with some persistent Achilles problems. She did have a solid training block of six weeks in March and April with Ford Ironman World Champion, Chrissie Wellington, in Spain, but recognizes St. Croix “is always a tough race with the terrain, heat and humidity making the event particularly challenging.”
Carfrae is returning to avenge her defeat last year (she did finish second), and is coming off several extremely impressive showings already this year. “Rinny” ran an almost unbelievable 1:17:34 half-marathon while winning the Rohto Ironman 70.3 California in March and, just last weekend, showed she has short course speed as well in finishing second at the extremely competitive St. Anthony’s Triathlon. Last year, Carfrae put together a very solid bike leg, but “making some rookie mistakes” led to a bout of dehydration on the run.
“This year I will definitely be paying closer attention to my calorie and fluid intake, but regardless, I will have to have a very solid performance to hold off Cat and all the other girls,” says the two-time St. Croix 70.3 Champion and course record holder.
In addition to these two pre-race favorites, don’t count out former ITU standout and winner of Ironman 70.3 New Orleans just two weeks ago, Sam Warriner. Warriner, like Carfrae, is now being coached by Siri Lindley, who seems to be able to get her athletes running off the bike as well as any coach in the sport. Another long distance standout to watch is Tereza Mazel, winner of both Ford Ironman Lake Placid and Subaru Ironman Canada in 2009, and a prominent member of Coach Brett Sutton’s Team TBB.
How about a couple of world champions? Besides being the returning champion and setting the new course record, Tim O’Donnell (above) is also the reigning ITU Long Course Champion. Current Ford Ironman World Champion, Craig Alexander, won St. Croix three consecutive years, 2006 to 2008, but missed last year as his wife, Neri, was giving birth to their
second child, Austin. Throw in Terrenzo Bozone, the 2008 Ironman 70.3 World Champion (and winner of last week’s Memorial Hermann Ironman 70.3 Texas “over second place, Tim O’Donnell), and you are set up for a true Caribbean showdown.
When asked about racing against Alexander, O’Donnell is quick to answer: “While I may be the returning champ, I am still the underdog. It has been years since I raced “Crowie” (Alexander), but I have never beaten him.” Coming off a 29-second defeat at the hands of Bozzone last week should add further fuel to O’Donnell’s drive to the finish line Sunday. Last year, O’Donnell showed incredible focus – he lost a lens from his sunglasses on the bike and ran the entire half-marathon with just the one lens … and did not realize it until after the race! The picture of him running through the finish chute earned him the nickname, “the pirate.”
Alexander returns to St. Croix with his wonderful family, as they all absolutely love the island. “It is an incredibly scenic race, and particularly challenging; but, I think for us, it is more the fact that it almost feels like we are ‘coming home,” says Neri, Craig’s wife. “We always make it an extended trip “Lucy, our daughter, has had her first three birthdays there, and Austin will turn one there this year.” Crowie will certainly be looking to celebrate in more than one way this weekend.
Along with these three favorites, however, don’t count out Richie Cunningham or Dirk Boeckel, who always seem to do well on the island, as well as Fredrick Van Lierde and up-and-coming Tyler Butterfield.
St. Croix … Paradise
The pro athletes return year after year as they recognize and appreciate not only the incredible beauty of the island, but, also, the fantastic spirit and support of the people of St. Croix. “I love the way the community gets involved,” says Cat Morrison. “On race day, people camp out on their lawns to cheer the athletes on “it’s just magic. The welcome to the athletes is just amazing — I’m smiling just thinking about!”
Mirinda Carfrae concurs: “St. Croix definitely holds a special place in my heart “it’s always an amazing experience from the moment you step off the plane!”
Carfrae, Morrison, and O’Donnell, in fact, in an effort to say thanks to the community and race organizers, will be holding a “Pro Clinic” on Thursday before the race, with all proceeds going to the Virgin Islands Triathlon Federation.
We can’t conclude any story on this race without mentioning “The Beast.” We all know about the beauty of the island, but it is the beast of the island that all competitors will truly feel the most on Sunday. Known as one of the “if not the “toughest climbs in the sport of triathlon, here is the description from the race’s Athlete’s Guide: “Twenty-one miles into the bike, The Beast is a 600-foot climb in a stretch of highway 7/10 of a mile long with an average grade of 14 percent and a maximum grade of 21 percent.” Plain and simple, it’s brutal. By the time you get off the bike, following many, many more rolling hills on the backside of the course, the heat and humidity has risen, and there’s a two-loop, tough run that concludes one of the toughest 70.3’s in the world.
There is a festive atmosphere all race weekend, from the fun and frolicking “Jump Up” carnival on Friday night, the huge crowds on race day and the fantastic post-race party and awards banquet Sunday night. All visitors to St. Croix this weekend will have a most memorable experience. And, like the Alexanders, many will stay a few extra days to enjoy the wonderful beaches and maybe tour the rest of this historic, friendly, and magnificent island.
Fredrick Van Lierde
Barry Siff, member of the Timex Multisport Team and writer, will be racing and reporting from St. Croix on Sunday. His wife, Jodee, and dog, Jackpot, will be back at home in Boulder, Colorado.